People are Buzzing about Pollinator.

Hello everyone, Glasgow is getting a Mini Maker Faire! How exciting is that? To celebrate, the team thought it’d be great to invite local makers to write a few words about their builds and motivations for making and since i’d never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself, introducing “Pollinator”, my latest build.

So I’m building a machine. I’m always building something. I suppose people have all kinds of reasons to build. They may want to change the world with some amazing innovation. Maybe it’s a living or a hobby. For some of us it’s a creative impulse, it’s how we express ourselves, how we present ourselves to the world. I’m no writer. I’m not terribly comfortable in the company of other people but I do have that extrovert streak, making things is how I show off. I think a lot of artists are showoffs at heart.

Pollinator framed but missing front playfield.

Pollinator framed but missing front playfield.

I think you can spot makers like us early. It starts with breaking things. It grows into taking things apart to see how they work. I’m sure it’s really annoying when it’s your things. I’m really sorry I pulled the hands off grannies clock, Mum. But the cogs and gears made the best unofficial upgrade to my lego set. I’m sorry I broke the TV too Dad. I chipped the screen of our black and white set with a stray marble. The tube slowly gassed out and the picture grew smaller and fainter over the space of a week or two. Yes I got in so much trouble but once the picture faded to oblivion, my dad and I spent a day in the garage taking it to bits and making electromagnets from the salvaged wires. This is one of the fondest childhood memories I have of my dad, so yes, making things is an extremely positive thing for me. Oh and we rented a COLOUR tv after that. So it was a double win.


The tiny cathode ray tube from a camcorder viewfinder.

The tiny cathode ray tube from a camcorder viewfinder.

Yes I’m still taking black and white TV sets apart because .. you say as a joke “wouldn’t it be cool to have a smart watch with a cathode ray tube screen” .. then you think.. Actually I really want that to exist, and you realize, you have a new maker goal.

I should probably point out that large coiled springs and tv tubes can both be dangerous so don’t give ’em to your kids to take apart…. this was the 70s after all. We didn’t know any better.

Anyway the cathode ray tube wrist watch isn’t the subject if this blog, it’s a distraction. I never make one thing at a time, I’ve always got several pieces of nonsense on the go at once. No, this blog is about “POLLINATOR” my Christmas project (yes I know it’s March).

I love old arcade machines, both videogames and the earlier electromechanical marvels. I had the idea of using arduinos and similar programmable microcontrollers to create some electromechanical like arcade game sculptures but using the electronics to take some of the work out of building the incredibly complex and cunning mechanical brains these machines depended on.

I was also inspired by Tim Hunkin’s wonderful and whimsical amusement machines.

I’d played a game called Ice Cold Beer at a few game shows and discovered it was based on a traditional pub game where a ball is dragged up a playfield, covered in holes, with 2 strings. It’s actually pretty simple compared to some arcade games but it’s very addictive and fun so it was a good prospect for my first project on the theme.

The design actually sat in a sketch book for a couple of years but at the end of last year I was messing around with 3D printers a lot and I realised I was looking, not only at the tool to build ‘pollinator’ but I was also looking at the mechanics I required too.

some of the 3D printed components

some of the 3D printed components.

I bought a bunch of 3d printer parts and fired up my own 3d printer to do all the difficult bits… but the majority of the material came from B&Q and scraps from the garage.

Plywood from the hardware store.

Plywood from the hardware store.

Pollinator is basically a box with some holes drilled in it, a bunch of switches and 2 linear actuators , a lot like those you find on the 3d printers mentioned earlier.
Also a suspended bar with a ballbearing balanced on it.

Little switches.

Little switches.

I really enjoy collaborating on projects like this too, so when a friend suggested ‘flowers’ as a theme for the game, it quickly became a game about a bee, moving from flower to flower (Pollinator, get it?) and avoiding the carnivorous plants (holes). Expanding on the idea, it was obvious we had to including the frantic “flight of the bumblebee” music and this gave me an excuse to rope in another pal who does amazing things with microprocessors and music. Sound effects covered.

I have one more collaborator. So my mum’s a maker also. She paints. I had a blank playfield. She likes painting flowers … how could I say no? One Van Gogh sunflower number for the play field, thank you very much.

My Mum's sketch for the playfield art.

My Mum’s sketch for the playfield art.

Pollinator is still a work in progress. I’ve got some interesting plans for the controls and the code still needs a lot of finessing but it’s playing and It’s been a great deal of fun to put together with my fellow makers. It’s going to appear at the Edinburgh Mini Makers Faire and maybe at the Newcastle Maker Faire also. After that it’s form may change, mutate, pupate? But it shall emerge in its final guise at the Glasgow Mini Maker Faire in July along with all the other amazing makes (assuming there’s room for it).
So the Glasgow Maker Faire adventure begins. I hope you enjoyed this inaugural ramble. We’d like to bring you regular blogs from Glasgow makers so if you’ve got an interesting project or story you’d like to share, please give us a shout and we’ll post it up.

Jams G Watt can be contacted at